For me, one of the highlights of my fruity adventures along the path of health and wellness has been the experience of watching a fruit plant grow, flower and set fruit and then seeing that fruit gradually ripen to full maturity. This amazing work of Mother Nature then culminates in the wonderful experience of eating delicious home-grown fruits.
Not only does freshly picked, fully plant-ripened fruit taste way better than store-bought produce, it will also have an optimal nutritional profile. This is because levels of macronutrients and micronutrients increase when a fruit is left to fully mature on the parent plant.
Ripe fruit may taste better and be more nutritious, but full ripeness, in some cases, can also be vital if you want to stay alive! Examples of fruits that can be toxic when underripe include the chocolate or black sapote (Diospyros nigra) and the astringent persimmon (Diospyros kaki). These members of the Diospyros family are extremely unpleasant when underripe due to the tannins they contain. When the fruit is perfectly ripe, the tannins naturally disappear. Sadly, the unripe Black Sapote has also been used as fish poison in the Philippines and West Indies, and this only goes to show how toxic it can be in its unripe state.
One really extreme example of how dangerous underripe fruit can be is the ackee (Blighia sapida), named after Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, who first took the fruit from Jamaica to Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew in 1793. When underripe, the ackee contains potentially fatal hypoglycins. These chemical compounds interfere with some of the vital enzymes needed for energy production, and severe hypoglycemia can result; then you really would know the meaning of “undercarbed”! During a three-month period in 2010, 23 people died in Jamaica from eating underripe ackee, despite the ackee being the national fruit of Jamaica!
Therefore, eating properly ripe fruit is not only better for our palate and nutrient levels; it also ensures we avoid unwanted toxins that can harm us.
Mother Nature always makes perfect sense. If a plant puts a lot of its time, energy and resources into creating seeds housed in fruit, and the fruit is eaten before full maturity, then the seeds it has worked hard to produce may be immature and unviable, and all that effort would be in vain. In addition, the levels of poisons that a plant produces and uses for protection will also reduce if a fruit is left to reach complete maturity. Examples of this include tomatoes and apples. If these fruits are left to fully ripen on the parent plant, the level of salicyclates in them becomes very low.
Before the onset of industrial agriculture, people would grow their own fruit or buy produce at local markets. In both cases, the fruits for sale were picked fully ripe and therefore contained low levels of salicylates. Salicylates are actually very useful to the plant; they act as a safeguard against insects eating the fruit—a natural self-produced insecticide!
Today, commercial agricultural practices can mean that fruits are nearly always picked unripe because of transportation and spoilage factors. Additionally, fruits are often artificially gas-ripened. These practices result in fruits containing significantly higher amounts of salicylates than they did just 50 years ago. Therefore, if we want to get maximum micronutrients from our fruit and minimum toxins, it can really help to buy locally grown, freshly picked, backyard, wild, home-grown and foraged fruits. Making connections with local fruit and fruit growers can consequently be an invaluable part of keeping well and healthy.
Some ways to help develop networking and make connections include:
1. Renting an allotment. Allotments are either government or privately owned plots of land with a primary purpose of being used for growing food. In the United Kingdom, allotments have been in existence for hundreds of years, with the first plots going back to Anglo-Saxon times. Modern-day allotments have their origins in the 19th century, when land was given over to the labouring people so they could grow their own food crops. The rapid industrialisation of the country, combined with the lack of a welfare state, meant that home-grown fruits and vegetables could be a literal lifesaver.
Then in 1908, the Small Holdings and Allotments Act came into force, and this meant that local authorities were legally required to provide sufficient allotments, according to regional demand. By the end of the First World War, land for growing food was made accessible to everyone. This available fertile land assisted both returning servicemen and civilians. Renting an allotment not only allows the growing of fresh organic produce, it also connects you to a network of experienced local growers, who can offer tips and assistance on all aspects of fruit growing.
2. Joining a local community garden. If you do not have the time to manage an allotment or plot of land, joining a community garden can be a great way to help grow food and gain gardening experience. One aspect that I really love about community gardens is the networking and sharing experiences they provide. Local people come together with a shared purpose, and as well as growing fruit, friendships are nurtured. Therefore, community gardening can improve mental as well as physical health.
Research shows that when schools have introduced community gardens on their grounds for the pupils to grow their own food, not only has the students’ horticultural knowledge increased but grades have improved in other areas of the children’s studies.
3. Becoming a member of local fruit clubs and associations. Joining local fruit clubs in your area can be an excellent way of connecting with local backyard fruit growers. The members are people with years of combined skills and knowledge in growing fruits suitable for your local area.
Groups often have monthly or bimonthly meetings in which members share knowledge, bring home-grown fruit to share and swap fruit plants. Speakers are also often invited to share their expertise. Networking with members can help you connect with people who have an excess of local fruit for sale. In addition, if you are interested in growing your own fruit, you can greatly increase your pomological knowledge by spending time with these enthusiasts.
4. Searching fruit-finder databases. One really great way to find local or wild fruit in your area is to look online. In recent times, the Internet has made it possible to discover fruit trees in your own neighbourhood. So from the comfort of your armchair, you can plan a route of local fruit foraging!
Some helpful international sites are FallingFruit.org and RipeNear.me. There are also many other smaller area-specific online sites relevant to specific locations. Searching Google or other site engines can be a useful way to find fruit trees near you. Often, information for fruit tree locations is plotted by people on Google maps, making the bounty easier to find.
To truly thrive on this diet, I very much believe we need to source top-quality fruit. Whilst supermarket and conventional fruit may furnish our macronutrient needs, it is the wild, foraged, local and backyard fruits that are real powerhouses of micronutrients, containing the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are so frequently lacking in commercially grown produce.
And in most parts of the world, from temperate climates to more tropical locations, there are hidden treasures of local fruits just waiting to be discovered. Often the longer you reside in an area, the more connections and discoveries you will make. Friends with a shared love of fruit will share their harvests with you or let you know the location of wild or abandoned fruit trees; local allotment owners or backyard growers may have fruit or tips to share with you, and you will start to discover local farmers or growers in your area. Once effective relationships have been built, you will find that more great quality fruit will come into your life!
Therefore, networking and connecting with others is very helpful in ensuring you are able to source great-quality and available fruit in your local community. As the roots of a tree grow each year, so our invaluable connections grow and spread out and unite with more and more people. “Man is not an island,” the saying goes, and it is often the contacts and relationships we nurture that help nourish not only our emotional being but also our physical being, as they bring fruit and love into our lives.
Good-quality, properly ripe fruit, grown with love and in great soil, is, I believe, essential for us to thrive and reach our true potential. So reach out to others and grow your local connections to help nourish yourself.